A Geography—A Map of Place
New York City—the Bronx. Say those words and I create a collage. I see the Paradise Theater on the Grand Concourse. I don’t recall the size of the theatre and only sat on a plush faux velvet theatre seat on two occasions. Both times I scrunched down in the seat and stared at the overhead ceiling and its array of sparkling stars and moving simulated clouds. Later on I read that the theatre seated 4,000 and had a baroque décor. In the Bronx where I lived, crowded with apartment buildings nudging up against one another, an elevated train on stilts, coal fed incinerators spewing smoke into the sky, stars hid. The stars on the Paradise ceiling opened up a world of wide expanses. The first time I went out west and stared up I thought of the Paradise ceiling. That ceiling gave me a taste of an open sky.
I see the drugstore down the hill. This is where I went with my father to check television batteries. A large unwieldy machine tested the innards of a television. Around the corner — a Chinese Laundry where my father’s shirts were laundered, starched, folded with a cardboard insert and then wrapped in brown paper. Of course there were those numbered pink and yellow tickets. And next to the Chinese Laundry a small kosher butcher shop where the owner stood behind the counter and chickens hung on hooks on the back wall. Do I recall the feathers? It must be so because my grandmother plucked the chicken at the kitchen sink and rubbed the chicken with coarse kosher salt.
Before the large grocery store moved into the neighborhood, Minnie’s Grocery supplied the staples. I loved when Minnie used a pair of pinchers at the end of a long stick to nab a box on the uppermost shelf. Her Breakstone’s Cream Cheese came in wood boxes and I, along with all my friends, waited patiently for a box. When the new larger A & P grocery store opened up my mother switched because of the lower prices. That’s where I first learned about some of the horrors of the war. It was a hot summer and women wore short sleeves. We were on line waiting to pay for our groceries; a woman in front of us took off her jacket and wiped away the perspiration on her forehead. When she lifted her arm I saw numbers on her arm.
“Why,” I asked my mother, “does she have numbers on her arm?”
My mother shushed me and said “Later.” Later she told me that I was too young to know of those things. I wasn’t yet of an age that required two numbers.
“Don’t stare,” she said. I don’t remember much more about that grocery store because Minnie lowered her prices and many of her old customers returned.
Geography of the soul—